© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

I learned a new word today, well a phrase – le esprit de l’escalier. Technically I learn new words most days; dictionary.com does send me their Word of the Day. Most days I either know the word or don’t have the time to open yet another alert on my phone.

Le esprit de l’escalier – a compound noun describing all those times when your wit fails you and you don’t have comeback or cool thing to say until after you leave the room. It apparently comes to us from the French of Diderot and then adapted wholesale into English about a hundred years ago. The French being so borrowed with no love for the direct English translation, the spirit of the staircase.

The phrase in both French and English conjures the image of a man stepping to the bottom of the staircase (typically already out the door) and kicking himself for all the things unsaid. I suppose I picked this Word of the Day because of how often I actually am that guy. And perhaps the couple-three times when I did have something to say before going out the door. I’m also the writer famous for overusing a related phrase when telling stories – “when I rewrite this moment for the movie…”

My saying usually pops up when I tell a story and it’s important to let the listener know that while I didn’t actually say or do anything my feelings in the moment are part of the story. Maybe I wasn’t quick enough and the moment for the devastating zinger left the building with Elvis. Maybe it was shit dangerous (did you see that guy?). And maybe I can’t repeat the times where I did bust out my wit on time; it’s a family blog…sort of.

In the movie, the guy sitting next to some large and loud assclown going off about Mexicans throws an elbow. Or in the less violent Use Your Words spirit of le esprit de l’escalier that guy finds a clever way to verbally cut the pig fucker (it’s not that much a family blog) at the knees; the gold standard being Cyrano taking down a jerk that led with – “Sir, your nose is rather large.” Reality check, I listened, kept my shit together, ate donuts, drank punch and waited it out.

Reasons not to include of course the physical not fully covered by the spirit of the staircase. The movie will allow 5’10” and 190lbs (at the time) to go fisty-fisty with 6’2” and 220-ish and win. The recurring dream of a verbal two-point reversal and takedown has to give way to the fact that this much racism has a way of shutting down all but the very best agile minds, leading back to the fight that never happened.

But, the part of this story that is covered by le esprit de l’escalier pretty much tells me that like most writers the closest I ever came to Cyrano busting the Hey Big Nose Guy with twenty better insults, I’ve needed my usual four drafts and lots of rewrites. The movie or book allows that writer biting his tongue being minutes late to get it right…eventually. We call this magic spell…editing.

The spirit of the staircase also strikes in more normal times at a party among friends. Beer on the table. An important story to tell. The guys are bored. Hecklement ensues. A great smashback lands five minutes too late. The opportunity and the original point of the story…also just left the building with Elvis.

I suppose I just got tickled that this particular compound noun that I swear didn’t know existed landed on an otherwise slow news day. The beauty of these four words is that I’ve always described the concept with maybe a ten-word sentence. And the Use It In a Sentence part of my prompt – “for writers, le esprit de l’escalier is a common experience” – will always eat my attention.

It’s an easy bet that these tricksy-tricksy dictionary people have the average writer’s personality wired. That we are, in strict point of fact, the kind of people likely to grind teeth over the unsaid. And then adopt – “when I rewrite the scene for the movie” – as almost a personal motto and talisman of faith. And, yes, I do rewrite things for the movie, no lie G.I.

It occurs to me that the state of being a writer has a way of feeding the condition of missing the perfect moment. We get used to editing everything at least four times. We don’t practice rolling up our sleeves in these situations and thus lose the skill.

I suppose the remainder might be to ruminate why the French phrase ended up as a direct loanword instead of the equally descriptive translation – the spirit of the staircase. But, I already sort of know and so do you. Americans just love our pseudo-French words that we mugged Pierre, Jacques and Jean-Luc for to avoid making up our own words. And we also love saying it knowing we stand a good chance of mangling the accent what with that pernicious le, de, second hyphenated le and -ier ending.

Now that I think about it, the spirit of the staircase really sounds like a horror movie title. A hack writer would simply go for the monster bloodily tripping people down the staircase to their respective dooms. Nothing wrong with this simple version of the movie, but imagine a skilled writer incorporating the true meaning of le esprit de l’escalier into the narrative where the things people don’t say at the top of the stairs affects how the fall down them? (The pen draft to this post paused to record the idea.)

So there it is, a filled word quota and a seemingly brilliant idea just because the Word of the Day struck me weird. A good day, but now you go off and do your own writing.

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© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Writer’s block, a hotly contested topic. 1) Does it exist? 2) Is it just an excuse for laziness? 3) What causes it? 4) What do I do about it? Those are usually the questions on the subject.

In my experience…1) Yes, some of the time. 2) Yes, the rest of the time. 3a) If you answered Yes to question One then the answer will usually be some sort of unhealed mental trauma. 3b) If you answered Yes to Question Two, bad habits, sloth and/or an apparent lack of ideas. 4) Your choice of therapy or “just write something and see where it takes you.” This post largely covers a small part of the second answer to Question 4 and an even smaller part of 3B.

Writers hear and say the Write Anything suggestion all the time. Ray Bradbury reinforced it telling people how when he could afford it he had six typewriters in his house in order to always work on something. Paul Savage, the head writer of Gunsmoke after the post-1963 shakeup told me at my dad’s seventieth birthday party to – “write every day.” Since I do write nearly every day both before my huge writer’s block episode ten years ago and after, I can attest the advice largely works.

Next, we have the single most heard excuse for not getting started – “I don’t have any ideas.” A writer with reason to feel empathy towards writer’s block when it’s real will still roll their eyes hearing this one. We assert Write Anything as the cure all precisely because of a phenomenon that describes a writer with the opposite problem, too many ideas shouting between the ears fighting for the next slot on paper.

A writer trying to get the vampire western onto the page doesn’t actually want to hear from the protagonist of the vampire pirate story (unless they’re really the same story, a topic for the advanced class). But, while scribbling out the big scene of the vampire standing under the full China Moon ten feet away away from the in-story equivalent of Jonathan Harker hands twitching near those classic wheel guns – *record scratch* – and…

Suddenly, a pirate Dream Team, Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts, Jean Lafitte, Anne Bonney, Mary Read, okay, let’s throw in Captain Hook and Jack Sparrow for good measure, are now swinging on halyards across to the bloodsucker’s bloody grimy quarterdeck. The writer hearing the Ennio Morricone Good, Bad and Ugly theme in his/her head suddenly shifted to the Korngold last heard on Captain Blood. And now most writers are either pounding head to the desk, pouring a whiskey or quitting to watch TV.

All three of these responses are wrong because what is not happening is a furtherance of the vampire western and this indecision could be how we become J.D. Salinger, a one hit wonder. Experienced writers hearing this complaint typically tell their students and mentees to take a minute to groove on the new idea, write it down in their notebook and get immediately back to the project that originally did the spawning. Other experienced writers (yo, I’m your Huckleberry) will modify that to say pick a small handful of projects with one as primary and the rest are secondaries; switch around as needed on these small few projects and write down all other ideas and brain farts as suggested above. A blocked primary project can cause full writer’s block if there aren’t a few other outlets.

So back to the scared writer afraid of getting started and probably annoyed that the Been Theres just rolled their eyes for the fiftieth time. Also claiming to have no ideas. This person is likely to ask – “is this phenomenon of getting all these good ideas while trying to write other things real?”

Yes, Ducky. Before leaving Facebook, the I Have Too Many Ideas While Writing Other Things thread surfaced about every two weeks. A lot of writers I know and I can all show you our list of ideas on our Notes and Lists apps at the drop of a hat, or will open up our paper notebooks. Lined part of the page for the current work; unlined top margin for new ideas and brain farts.

As one example, the morning of this writing I’m doing a pen draft for a post about exploring the Word of the Day where suddenly I comment that the phrase in English sounds like a horror movie title. BING! Write down the idea before it’s gone and keep going. I simply attest this happens to me literally all the time.

It then occurs to me that if the solution to too many ideas is take a minute to groove, write it down and move on, then some genius should figure out how to use the same advice flipped on its head to solve the too few ideas problem. Specifically, the new writer afraid of not having the right idea could, in theory, start writing from some goofy prompt (see bottom of post). Hopefully, something you’d never want under your name.

The idea is to trick yourself into creating ideas you like. First, write the thing from the prompt. You hate it. It’s not good enough. And…and… – *record scratch* – an idea.

Write this next idea down in your brand spankin’ new notebook or notes app. Go back to the prompt driven project. Yes, I know the title of this post is First Interruption, but hear me out, you need more than one homegrown idea to begin your list like sourdough starter. So repeat the suggestions from one paragraph above until you have four record scratches, just to be safe.

Now you have four ideas likely to be brilliant…after a draft, four edits, one shithead editor, two more edits and…(see the advanced class). You also have an unfinished craptacular prompt driven project that you hate because ultimately Not Invented Here is a thing everywhere, Ducky. So now you have a decision…

Maybe you come to love the prompt driven thing. If so keep going. Keep expanding your project list with each record scratch. Rejoice in the primary’s eventual completion.

But, likely you still hate it. So now you pull out the first interrupting idea and get started. Eventually, you rejoice in this completion, too.

Will this suggestion work? Don’t actually know. It feels like it should because once you’re in the consistently writing part of the club, you will get all kinds of good ideas. And make a list you’ll never complete barring a Faustian deal.

The prompt – “Suffering from incessant hallucinations, a fallen angel, accidentally runs over Lucifer’s favorite Hellhound (slightly edited, natch).”

The secondary dice prompt – Angry Ghost, Cow, Evil Puppet/Ventriloquist Doll, Science Experiment, First Aid Kit, Cough, Music, Gilded Cage, Pirates, Gemstone Necklace, Child with Glasses, Superhero Shooting Fireballs.

Extra points and the accolade “you’re a better writer than I, Gunga Din” for the writer that figures out if the two prompts might be the same prompt. Shall we begin?

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Romantic ghost story, so the DVD label said. Guillermo del Toro’s recent entry into the Gothic Romance genre, Crimson Peak, was on the face of things romantic and had ghosts in it…so no need to call the FTC. But, still only a movie to define the middle of the pack instead of me either really hating it or really loving it.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) gets set to present her latest ghost story novel to an editor. The editor, perhaps expressing a mix of the sexism of the late Victorian Age and that Edith is still young and hasn’t been beaten around as an author yet, sends her packing. Undeterred, Edith arranges to borrow one of the newfangled typewriters in her father’s construction office to create an even better manuscript.

Father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), leads a new business acquaintance, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), into the office for a discussion about an investment opportunity. The English Baronet takes a moment to look over Edith’s shoulder and recognizes her work for what it is immediately. And then Meet Cute style is only clued into her being the boss’ daughter afterwards.

Carter and his partners hear Sir Thomas out concerning his need for funding new machinery to harvest the red clay on his moldering estate back in England in order to make bricks. The American businessmen in the room, including Mr. Carter, all got there Horatio Alger style and don’t trust softie-pants English gentlemen with privilege. But, there’s something else about Sir Thomas and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), that doesn’t sit well with Mr. Carter. Something likely to show up in the kind of Trans-Atlantic background checks possible in 1901, if you hire a detective.

Meanwhile, Sir Thomas goes around Mr. Carter in seeking Edith’s companionship waiting until everyone else attends a party that Edith didn’t care for. Edith and Sir Thomas show up fashionably late and dance a waltz. The detective brings back the fruits of the background check at the party causing Mr. Cushing to bribe Sir Thomas away from his only daughter. Schemes that only backfire leading to murder, marriage, more murder and you guessed it many ghosts in Sir Thomas’s crumbling estate on which only red clay is likely to grow.

The movie trades on the fantastic production design inherent in director Guillermo del Toro’s vision applied to literally everything he does. Need a house with a hole in the roof to let in both the fall leaves and later white snow? Need a physical darkness to go with the darkness in the characters? Need certain chromatic juxtapositions like white snow and the red clay into which the house will one day sink? Then the right director was at the helm.

But, Mr. del Toro’s usual instincts for storytelling that go beyond what things look like on screen didn’t fully show up. We are treated to a movie that works a little more like Rebecca than Dracula. In the former, the female protagonist gets into a battle with another woman associated with her new husband and his creepy estate and ends on good terms with her husband. In the latter, the new husband/lover is straight up the problem and doesn’t survive the story killed by the protagonist.

The checklist aspects of a plot putting Edith, Lucille and Sir Thomas in the same house with competing agendas unfolds more or less as expected. Sir Thomas despite a lifetime of being creepy with his even creepier older sister grows in affection for his new wife. The sister won’t have any of that and soon out pop the axes, knives and other tools of blunt and stabby force trauma. And we spend more time waiting for skeletons to float up out of vats of red clay.

But, the moment we need to see where Sir Thomas changes sides in the ongoing program to wed available rich heiresses with no other family, poison their tea and take the inheritances, really seems almost nonexistent on screen. Yes, structurally the movie contrives to get Edith and Sir Thomas snowed in alone in the village pub which results in sex that he’d promised Lucille would never happen.

But, what’s on screen is the “we need this scene because Blake Snyder says we need it, but we’re putting our money elsewhere” version of this admittedly union-mandated moment. This is me in the wilderness pleading for a little more than “you’re different than all the others.”

Which brings to mind that perhaps there were more things to use in getting Edith out through the story alive. She is a writer currently specializing in ghost stories largely due to her mother’s ghost earlier appearance right after dying of TB warning her – “beware of Crimson Peak” – the nickname of the house due to the white snow and red clay. Edith sees Dead People…I buried the lead in the setup. Deal. However, we don’t see a single action by Edith attributable to her writing.

No moments where the things going bump in the house are analyzed by Edith doing a cross between Velma and Stephen King (but only at certain snowbound hotels). Any newly rich woman being slowly poisoned by her new sister in law would do the same things Edith does.

I just had a thought. Tom Hiddleston gave Sir Thomas an air of being truly concerned that his new machine would save the family by resuming the brickworks enterprise. He spends much time outside firing up the steam engine, not oblivious to the women chasing each other inside with stabby things and poisoned teacups, but certain this is less important than getting the machine working. Could this be a motive for Sir Thomas to change sides, believing Edith to be better for his long term goals than his sister? We won’t know, no one wrote this script.

So far I haven’t said much about the ghosts. The spirits of the three previous ex-wives killed in this old house; they serve more as warnings and clues for Edith to solve than actual parts of the story. They lead her to wax cylinders made by the last dead wife and advance the plot until Lucille’s treachery is revealed. It means you could dump the ghosts and find other ways for Edith to discover the plot against her and still have almost the same movie.

That said the swirling blacks and reds of the various ghosts in this movie are almost worth the price of admission by themselves. I just wish these dead ladies did more to intrude into the plot instead of existing slightly outside. Well, there’s always the next ghost story.

The production also did very well in casting. I might not have liked very much about the writing between the three characters that matter: Sir Thomas, Lucille and Edith. But, for the imaginary well-written version of this movie I still want Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. Each actor was so well chosen that I can’t really see anyone else playing these parts.

Tom Hiddleston may have needed a few better scenes to create a more believable setup for his character’s big moments, but he did get what he could out his face in the moments in between. And of course, he brings every bit of Loki to the part where he’s the overtly charming prom date soon to expose his dark side. It helps to hire Loki.

Jessica Chastain just went for it with the creepy, crazy Lucille that clearly emulates the housekeeper in Rebecca. Crazy. Violent. Incestuous (been dancing around this saying creepy a lot). And totally convincing. In a “please, Dear God, Ms. Chastain, don’t tell us about your research process” sort of way.

Mia Wasikowska tears it up as Edith. A warm and engaging presence similar to her performance as Alice. We care as she explores the house led by the ghosts only she sees. And…

All in all, Crimson Peak served as a decent video renter where we get to spend a pleasant few hours in a house that really should be allowed to sink into the mud. And now we get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

By G.N. Jacobs

Bruce Wayne read all the right papers with both feet up on the recliner feature of the wheelchair. Selina found an unusual for her stillness on the other side of the room stylishly laid out on a sofa with shoes off tearing up the latest romance novel. Somehow she’d become a character from Downton Abbey fully dressed in red to read silently with her husband and she hadn’t scratched anyone’s eyes out.

For his part, Bruce practiced the parts of his life that could happen tied to a chair like sniffing the air to guess her fragrance and the more important emotional undercurrents underneath. Boy, is she pissed about the silence, he thought enjoying a quick imagine of her in her work outfit suddenly ripped apart to reveal even more skin. He pushed the reports aside and help up his hand.

“Toss Episode One here, Selina,” Bruce said.

“Huh, Darling?” Selina asked innocently. “You want to read…”

“Yes, you hot sexy lit minx, I want to read your total crap but page turner bodice ripper,” Bruce said with his warmest smile.

“I’m not done, Bruce.”

“You’re on Episode Two of a series, Lina,” Bruce observed. “You can toss over the first one and quiz me at dinner.”

Selina held up the indicated volume giving it a teasing waggle. “Quiz me? About this book?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? It’s written a little complicated.”

“Darling Wife, it’s a romance novel written about to how an eighth grader likes her words with all the big nasty sex words added to keep away the YA crowd,” Bruce said showing much teeth to his smile. “Now if I can’t follow along then it’s pretty clear all the money put into the Wayne Foundation meant to get me through school was wasted.”

“True. You’re a smarty pants.”

“We agree on that at least,” Bruce said. “How about this, if I can’t manage and my lips move while I read you get to come over and read it to me. Tutoring for the quiz.”

Selina flushed almost as red as her dress finally allowing the full meaning of quiz to catch up to her. She lobbed over the book into his hands for a soft basket catch.

“Bruce, is my husband supposed to proposition me like this?”

“When he wants to reassure the wife that there aren’t any younger Russian tomatoes named Natasha, abso-frakking-lutely.”

“Are you sure, Dear?” Selina asked sweetly. “This book…”

Bruce held up the book to show off the cover of the woman in a cocktail dress approaching the man in the story with a rope tied in a bondage knot held behind her leg. A finger pointed out the detail.

“Selina, the cover gives it away as discreetly as a publisher might allow,” Bruce said enjoying the repartee too much. “If the acts implied by this cover don’t happen by Page 50, no let’s be generous, Page 70, I’m going to make you send the whole series back to Amazon. And trash these people on Goodreads. False advertising.”

“Okay, Love, more seriously you’ve never indicated…”

“That when the love of my life is on the board my squeamishness about this sort of thing goes straight into the toilet,” Bruce answered.

“Squeamish?” Selina probed. “I meant to ask about that.”

“They sometimes call him, The World’s Greatest Detective,” Bruce said. “It means to play him on TV, I had to read at least one boring ass scholarly book on the subject. Teaches the knots and safe words, but doesn’t make it seem fun. You do that.”

Selina flushed redder and blew a kiss. “You buried the lead. I love you works equally well for what you want.”

“Maybe, but I love you also works to thank you afterwards,” Bruce observed. “And I do.”

“What?”

“Love you.”

“I know.”

And so they read their respective books eyes bugging out with each salacious passage. Curiosity finally killed off the cat. She closed her book after moving the paper clip pressed into service as bookmark.

“This is too good,” Selina said. “Where is this boring scholarly work?”

“Behind you, third shelf from the floor, six from the left,” Bruce said. “Of the many thousands of books from all eras in the house, I keep the ones I’ve read and don’t really like in this room.”

“Now, you’ve really buried the lead.”

“Maybe.”

“You were bored and too lazy to ask Alfred for a book from another room.”

“Yes, Dear.”

“And burying the lead going the long way around ends with…”

“You…well, promising a compromising position. Instead of silently reading together like characters from a BBC show. A good day’s work don’t you think?”

By G.N. Jacobs

The bloke with green hair lay back in his cot hands behind his head. Bloke, he thought to himself mentally regaining his true American accent. Maybe I shouldn’t sign up for the play about the Cray Twins. Thoughts that promptly brought about the man’s trademark giggle fits that had scared more than a few politicians and small children, to the extent the two were separate concepts.

The guard in the gloomy grey hallway always made a check the minute the murder clown called Joker started laughing. The man had mentioned an older brother Joker had completely forgotten about as one of the inconsequential Little People. Well, one day they’ll let him try to kill me.

“Joker? Is your joke actually funny?” Guard Melton asked with the trepidation of a man convinced the next shoe would drop on his shift.

“No,” Joker said with his usual uncontrollable hisses and giggles that echoed shrilly off the walls. “Go back to beating that poor fellow three cells down. I miss his screams.”

The guard shook his head through the slot and bulletproof window fighting his anger over the aspersions to his character. Still, someone seemed to turn the screws on that other guy…

“Whatevs.”

“Oh, see about marching Harley in here for a conjugal,” Joker insisted. “I’m due.”

The guard walked away from the cell in exactly the opposite direction from the screamer’s cell. Joker smiled learning something new. It wasn’t Melton making the man scream; Joker needed a new plaything.

Joker used his memory and imagination to see the scene outside his window watching the shadows play out on his dreary cinderblock wall. One day he would have to check to see if the boat horn he heard far off over the hum of Gotham was really a yacht filled with coeds wrapped up against the icy sea breeze in clingy but still warm dresses. They couldn’t all be negligently holding cosmos, stingers and apple-tinis.

He also listened to the rhythm of the block. Melton joined another guard on the gun tier. Joker sat up in the dim light from the harbor and Gotham Narrows in the window. He had a problem to work out on the wall in UV ink.

The black light carefully hidden next to the pen in the Bible he no longer needed to read revealed a search. He asked written questions hoping to find answers.

WHO IS BATSIE? PROFILE – A: GOTHAM RESIDENT. DUH? OF COURSE, MOST SIGHTINGS IN GOTHAM. GEOGRAPHICAL ANALYSIS. B: A TRUE BELIEVER IN THE WAY GOTHAM USED TO BE, BUT PERHAPS NEVER WAS. C: EITHER RICH AS HELL OR FUNDED BY SERIOUSLY WELL FUNDED HIDDEN DO GOODERS. ALSO OBVIOUS, THE CAR, THE SUIT, THE BAT-BRANDED SHARP STABBY THINGS.

Joker stopped writing a moment to flex his fingers. The UV ink pen had a small barrel that didn’t allow for a comfortable grip. His elbow and fingers screamed bloody hell at the slight but persistent affront to his tendons. The stores at Arkham Asylum were so tightly controlled that asking for rubber pencil grips that any fourth grader had for standardized tests would spark a search.

DRESSING UP IN VAMPIRE FETISH GEAR IN ORDER TO BREAK BAD GUYS’ ARMS WITH IMPUNITY AS A LAST GASP OF ORDER IS NOT A NATURAL ACT. LEADING TO…D: BATSIE IS HIGHLY LIKELY TO BE SOMEONE THAT GOT BEAT UP OR SOMETHING AS A YOUTH. CROSS-REFERENCING POSSIBLY FILTHY RICH WITH VIOLENT TRAUMA IN YOUTH KEEPS CIRCLING BACK TO BRUCE WAYNE.

Joker blew on the ink attempting to dry the neatly printed letters that somehow managed to remain straight and level across the wall despite the absence of the guidelines available in most notebooks. He smiled running a finger over the already dry musings of a determined man. The pen flicked in his hand to drive more ink from the back of the reservoir to the felt tip.

PROBLEMS WITH BRUCE WAYNE THEORY. SEEN ON THREE OCCASIONS WITH BATSIE TOGETHER IN THE ROOM. RESEARCH INTO HIS FRIENDS SAYS HE COULD ASK OTHER DO GOODERS WHO CAN MIMIC OTHER PEOPLE. SUSPECT ASKING MARTIAN MANHUNTER AS MOST LIKELY. IF BRUCE WAYNE IS BATSIE, ALSO CAN’T DISCOUNT SHADOWY SELF-EFFACING BUTLER, ALFRED. BRITISH MILITARY RECORD SHROUDED WITH SO FAR UNBEATABLE DISCRETION.

RECENT PROBLEM, BRUCE WAYNE REPORTED AS LAID UP WITH BROKEN LEG FROM RECENT SKI ACCIDENT. BUT, BATSIE ALSO REPORTED BY SEVERAL SCAREDY CATS ON THE STREET. REPORTS ARE CONFUSED POSSIBLY BLÜDHAVEN DO-GOODER NIGHTWING TAKING SLACK. MORE LATER.

With that Joker put the pen and black light in their hiding place and set about imagining the next conjugal visit with his lady fair. Right about at the part where the MPAA would get frisky with the NC-17 rating on this particular fantasy, the murder clown felt a moment of ask and she’ll appear.

“Mr. J,” Harley Quinn said in a disembodied whisper that still let her high-pitched voice that reminded of a famous sitcom matriarch come through. “Is it safe?”

Joker held his hand to his heart letting his ruby red smile extend ear to ear indicating actual joy.

“Harley, sure, I’m not a dentist,” Joker said with surprising warmth mixed with the menace.

Harley resolved through the exterior wall underneath the high window. She wore the short skirt and fishnets version of her many red, white and black outfits derived from the character archetype from Italian comedia d’arte. She had needs the short skirt signaled but her face registered non-comprehension of his oblique joke.

“Dentist, Mr. J?” Harley asked. “I don’t like that game.”

“Never mind, an old movie, My Love,” Joker said softly anxious to get his hands on her bare shoulders. “I was expecting you in a few days wearing the red wig or something.”

Harley held up a platinum and titanium bracelet waggling her wrist. “A new toy, Mr. J.”

“Do I have to worry about how you convinced your new friend to give you this gadget?”

“Ask me no questions, I tell you no lies, Mr. J,” Harley said hoping to never answer the question. “It’s a game changer, Mr. J. Break out?”

Joker had long since given up counting the times he’d simply let the love of his warped life have her moments covered either by prison exception or a more blanket ask me no questions, I tell you no lies. The blonde cutie with the face made more so pushing her into a vat of green toxic goo always came back, rarely used her refrains concerning other men and sometimes whispered about the women as foreplay. A good arrangement.

Harley made use of the silence to step into his personal space brushing his nose with her lips. They sat together on the cot. She pointed at her neck and Joker nibbled the spot enjoying the homemade hypo-allergenic version of Rivera #4, the most ubiquitous female fragrance in the world. She moaned until…

“Mr. J, I can walk through walls now, do you want to break out or not?” Harley asked with rising impatience.

“No, My Love,” Joker said at last. “I don’t have a plan and this cot on the public dime is almost as good as any on the outside.”

Harley dropped a dress strap and bounced on the bed. Her ruby lips showed the screwed up green vegetable face of a woman that thinks her man is nuts. But, getting laid under the noses of the bulls also had its advantages. She took his face in his hands and kissed that red scar-smile dead center.

An hour later, the return of Guard Melton on his scheduled and appointed rounds caused Harley to roll under the cot where the blanket hanging down could hide her. Joker pretended to roll over the other way stealing the sleep that reassured the guards. She came up for air when she heard the heavy boots striding down the concrete floor.

Back in his arms, she kissed as a way to make forward progress dressing against his hands that wanted more. When he let her get dressed except for the last strap still akimbo, she descended into his hug listening to his heart.

“There is someone new in Gotham,” Harley reported in her softest whisper yet. “I’m hearing about black market unregistered drones changing hands. A friend across the river in Blüdhaven said she thought that Nightwing punk came over for the night a few days ago. And I’m hearing that some stickup boys got shanked by someone with a sword. And then the Bat showed up.”

“I know, Harley,” Joker said. “I haven’t decided yet, if I’m staying here for now because it’s more fun with you inside or if it’s too crowded out there.”

“Mr. J,” Harley said adding a little bit more whine. “I do what you ask, but I don’t like this sneak into the can game anymore than your stupid dentist game.”

“Soon, Harley, soon,” Joker said. “Do you really have to leave?”

Harley took a long moment and dropped the other dress strap.

By G.N. Jacobs

Bruce had waited out Selina’s absence for the long planned rubber chicken event with a listlessness that not even the empty flashy promises of the latest gaming console could alleviate. The game he wanted to play he promised not to crack the shrink wrap until she came home. The similar game probably built on the same engine seemed like more of a training tool and too much like his life, three short days ago. Zombies make so much better, Bruce thought just before reaching for the leg scratchy thing to get under the plaster.

Selina blew into the house with quite a bit of noise raising her voice to, “Honey, I’m home!” Bruce put down the controller pausing the game he really didn’t want to play and listened to the sounds emanating from her entrance with Alfred at her heels. She made way too much volume for regular people that typically only lived in 1,200 square feet on the fourth floor, but perhaps just enough to carry from the south entrance through the main kitchen all the way up to this comfortable room with a huge TV.

He listened to his wife narrate the entrance with the many rooms in between. The words were more prosaic than her usual foreplay but they did the job considering that her mission was to make sure she took off her evening gown and makeup in favor of her game play uniform: jogging shorts and belly baring T-shirt. Her words induced shivers.

She found her way to the night’s designated game room having thrown a robe over the promised ensemble, her one concession to the winter cold. The mister spun his chair around appreciating even the robe. And that she’d forgotten to mention the blanket large enough for two on the couch.

“Good, you saved it for us,” Selina said cooing the minute she moved close enough to hear his heartbeat.

They played for perhaps two hours straight saving a fictional city from the undead. For some reason they fell into characters reminiscent of the British Avengers, John Steed and Emma Peel, as they shot nearly every frakking walker that could be found in the head. Bruce spoke in Received Pronunciation as if he’d actually gone to Oxford. Selina mugged her way through Ms. Peel’s barely restrained goddess sex bomb dialogue. Whatever, the zombies died in droves…

At the two hour mark the game changed, the way some games of poker change with mixed company and lots of alcohol or weed put in play. Selina dared Bruce to accomplish ever more impossible feats according to the many fans of the game with either a piece of clothing or act of affection on the table. And then she lost on purpose, an act of mock submission.

Alfred modestly regretted what happened next wheeling a cart with coffee and cookies into the room. The writhing blanket on the couch proved all he needed to see. He silently covered his mouth leaving the cart by the door. He thoughtfully flipped the switch on the coffee urn that would keep the fluid warm for hours. And he backed out of the room using more stealth than he’d ever done in his classified youth. Once out of the room, he did ask himself the inevitable how do they do that with the cast question.

Still later with the southwest view into the mostly unspoiled forests and other foliage west of Gotham proper framed by stars that Van Gogh just barely rejected for Starry Night framed in the window, Selina fell into Bruce’s arms under the blanket. He winced feeling just a little bit of…

“Oh, sorry, did that hurt?”

“No, Lina, I’m fine.”

“No you’re not,” Selina said. “You look like Alfred tried to feed you Brussels sprouts. I’ll move. There.”

“Thank you, Lina.”

“I rest my case, Bruce.”

“I love you, Selina.”

“I love you, Bruce.”

“Now what, Lina?”

Selina shrugged. “I don’t know. We agreed to stop to leave the next few boss levels for another night. We’ve also used up us for the night. Maybe discuss if Lina is really the pet name you want for me?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

Selina cocked her head thinking about it. “Nothing. But, I still don’t have one for you. Not one that doesn’t involve him, at least.”

“I am him.”

“Only in the sense of it gives you a lot of…”

Selina closed her mouth and said nothing further as she lay her ear on his heart. She put her arms around her husband.

“You’re my wife, you should be able to say everything you need to,” Bruce said.

“Not this, Bruce,” Selina said in the soft voice of a little girl wishing to take back unfortunate words. “It would only come out mean, judgy and psycho-babblely when you could say the same things about how I interact with her.”

“You are her.”

“God, you’re so wonderfully obtuse in all the right ways,” Selina said.

“Thank you,” Bruce said kissing her nose. “Though here we are safely ensconced in the one structure on the planet where we should feel safe and we’re still speaking around the subject: him and her.”

“I only trust the…basement for that kind of honesty,” Selina said.

“Some days, so do I,” Bruce said finding the button that…

“You called, Sir?” Alfred asked pretending not to see his employers acting like the viewer’s choice of teenagers or newlyweds.

“Have you run a bug sweep or cleared the Manor airspace of drones?” Bruce asked.

Alfred pointed out the leaded window with a view of the grounds leading out over to a panorama that included the city and the ocean beyond. More importantly, Selina’s perfect eyes compensated for the dim lighting in the room and the darkness outside to reveal the hovering four-rotor drone just outside. Three other drones silently edged up to the intruder.

“I suppose the next bit I should ask how prudish does Madame feel about her relations with her husband?” Alfred asked with an absolute British deadpan that not even Monty Python could match. “I will proceed accordingly.”

Selina put a finger to her ruby lips clearly weighing the options. Bruce couldn’t help his laughter and lust at seeing her wicked cuteness. He put a hand on her hip feeling her soft skin.

“Will your countermeasures erase the recording held on the remote drive?” Selina asked.

“No guarantees, Ma’am,” Alfred said. “But, I do have a frequency trace and Lucius Fox’s latest nasty blighter malware will handle the request in most circumstances and, at least, prove inconvenient to the opposition in the rest.”

“Do it, Alfred!” Selina hissed.

“I see, Madame,” Alfred agreed. “Manor, harden all Internet access points and execute EMP protocol!”

With that the three drones surrounding the intruder machine glowed blue at the nose like power plants about to detonate transformers. The lights flickered. The TV shifted from the HDMI port to the composite port where the old-timey stereo was hooked up. Music blared for a second, The 1812 Overture, a version with real cannons, and then faded. The drone fell to the grass outside in a smoking heap.

“Hey, I wondered where I left that CD!” Bruce said surprised.

Alfred looked out the window with a self-satisfied smirk. On the way back out the room, he stopped to kiss Selina’s forehead.

“We’ll see if that helped,” Alfred said. “As for bugs, Sir, Madame, the last sweep of this wing completed yesterday. Will there be anything else?”

Bruce shook his head. Selina tossed off a cute snort. Alfred backed out of the room pausing near the untouched cookie and coffee cart.

“And there have been cookies and coffee waiting for you,” Alfred said.

With that he left the room. Bruce and Selina broke out laughing having been caught by the house mother.

Burt West pounded his fists on the console as it flickered three times. The screen then flashed STORAGE MEDIA COMPROMISED. Not even yanking out the cables could stop the cascade failure across his drone system and computer. And then the sparks flew catching onto the cheap linen drapes.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Depending on where I last left things, I love the in-between on many projects. The perpetual toe dance between getting forty new ideas a year onto to my list for later thought, writing/typing preliminary chapters to make sure I actually understand my idea and work intended to just “flop the fish on the deck, or go home” is just Tuesday for me. I must love it a little, I do this so often.

When I get an idea, I mull it over in my head for hours. Sometimes I land on a title, but usually I’m thinking about the characters, setting and maybe the antagonist. Sometimes I have a title and somehow have to live up the promise of the title…truth in advertising. And don’t get me started on a certain movie title that over sold what was on screen, but I digress…

One example of having what should be enough to create a draft in three or four months, but for all the other puppies clawing and whining for attention somewhere in my dinosaur pea brain…The Gunfighter Oratorio. A simple thought process really…at some point you’re just going to have to write a rip-off/homage to the Hobbit and call it a day. Specifically, start with a party and all these focaccia dwarves just invited themselves to the shindig leading to a quest to rid the world of dangerous tools.

As of this moment, I’ve already thought up the character and where he lives. And I’ve also thought up the “things I do differently,” a.k.a. The Six Points of Dissimilarity (a legal standard that means the difference between sued and – “HA-HA, MF! SUCK IT HARD!”). Fairly early in the process, I’m thinking: Thorin is a woman, no hobbits nor dwarves, the band of fourteen is, in strict point of fact, a band bringing along their instruments, the quest McGuffin is related to music (stole it from a horror novel idea, no reason it can’t appear in both) and the minute I decided upon a fantasy world with six shooters, the piece was always going to have its title.

I’ve done a couple test chapters establishing a comfortable house in the wellbit land of Haven (people don’t usually reinvent the wheel when they name things). The landed gentry-man splitting the difference between Bilbo and Frodo lives in this house playing his viola contemplating that his impending run for Mayor may require an adventure.

His guests arrive in ones and twos creating a party where there had been none; finally, the object of the party shows up last, their sister and cousin escorted to meet her betrothed in a faraway land. Sparks fly and when the guests mention that they need both a viola and a fourteenth for the journey, the host leaves home.

And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. Other stories, maintaining this blog, doing a few more pages of my great comic book and the occasional side trip into TV Land all mean I have to pick a small number of these ideas just to scratch something off the list. My uncle once said, “I’m continuously impressed how you keep working and eventually publish things.”

Currently, the in-betweens that really matter involved an repurposed assassin clone falling in love with a widower as they delve into the secrets of her existence and save the world from hidden enemies. Or there’s been a decent amount of work recently on the two sisters from Trademark Safe Tatooine who band together despite loving the same man to save their planet from excessively greedy and destructive commercial exploitation. Until the next idea makes another left turn…

And there is still another book, a complete rewrite of my (hopefully only) tragically destroyed Crimes Against Elves. Five years grieving for the old version despite pretending it didn’t matter is enough. People asked “can’t you just take the parts that offended her out?” No, I either rewrite the whole thing from jump so that what needs to change doesn’t stick out where everyone sees it and gives me shit for leaving such glaring plot holes. A process that takes five years.

Nothing about how I handle my many in-betweens necessarily should inform how you handle your in-betweens. Yes, I try to keep my distraction to just a few projects keeping them hot and doing my words on a daily basis; that’s as much writing tip as I know how to give in this case. Fight to keep your gnat attention span focused on just a couple things; the other gadflies will still be there.

In addition to the simple incapability to maintain linear thought on just one project for more than six weeks, here’s what I’m thinking is also going on. The places I go when I write are just too damned entertaining in the sense of both places and the people living there that the imagining is sometimes enough to keep me entertained. Screw the words!

Of course, I can’t screw the words forever. The writing does two things. Help me understand what the purely visual part of the imagination didn’t actually tell me about, say, the Obsidian City. And I have to write it if I’m going to share the adventure. So here we are stuck in many in-betweens where I’m having all the fun (sorry), but I do write at least four times a week. I’ll get there…eventually.